Bobbs-Merrill Co. v. Straus

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Bobbs-Merrill Co. v. Straus

Supreme Court of the United States

Argued March 12-13, 1908

Decided June 1, 1908

Full case name: Bobbs-Merrill Company v. Straus, et al. doing business as R.H. Macy & Company
Citations: 210 U.S. 339; 28 S. Ct. 722; 52 L. Ed. 1086; 1908 U.S. LEXIS 1513; 6 Ohio L. Rep. 323
Prior history: Judgment for defendants, 139 F. 155 (S.D.N.Y. 1905); affirmed, 147 F. 15 (2nd Cir. 1906)
Subsequent history: none
Holding
Copyright holders did not have the statutory right to control the price of subsequent resales of lawfully purchased copies of their work. Second Circuit affirmed.
Court membership
Chief Justice: Melville W. Fuller
Associate Justices: John Marshall Harlan, David J. Brewer, Edward D. White, Rufus Wheeler Peckham, Joseph McKenna, Oliver Wendell Holmes, William Rufus Day, William H. Moody
Case opinions
Majority by: Day
Joined by: unanimous court
Laws applied
U.S. Rev. Stat. 4952, 4965, 4970 (Copyright Act of 1897)

Bobbs-Merrill Co. v. Straus, 210 U.S. 339 (1908) was a United States Supreme Court decision dealing with license terms of copyrighted works. The case centered around the publisher setting additional terms not specifically stated in the statute and claiming that the work was licensed and not sold. The Court's ruling established what came to be known as the "first sale doctrine", which was later codified as 109(a) of the Copyright Act of 1976.

Bobbs-Merrill Company sold a copyrighted novel, 'The Castaway,', with the notice, "The price of this book at retail is $1 net. No dealer is licensed to sell it at a less price, and a sale at a less price will be treated as an infringement of the copyright" printed immediately below the copyright notice. The defendants, R.H. Macy & Co., purchased large lots of books at wholesale and sold copies of the book at retail at the price of 89 cents a copy.

The Court affirmed the proposition that copyright property under the Federal law is wholly statutory, and depends upon the right created under the acts of Congress passed in pursuance of the authority conferred under article 1, 8, of the Federal Constitution: 'To promote the progress of science and useful arts, by securing, for limited times, to authors and inventors, the exclusive right to their respective writings and discoveries.'

The copyright statutes, while protecting the owner of the copyright in their right to multiply and sell the production, do not create the right to impose, by notice, a limitation at which a work would give a right not included in the terms of the statute extending its operation, by construction, beyond its meaning, when interpreted with a view to ascertaining the legislative intent in its enactment.

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